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How to Spot the Top Problems Home Sellers Try to Hide

4/5/2016

How to Spot the Top Problems Home Sellers Try to Hide

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Whether you’re a seasoned house hunter or a first-time buyer, the process of purchasing a home has plenty of pitfalls. And while you may assume that sellers are being upfront, it’s not uncommon for them to gloss over some of their home’s shortcomings.

“All homeowners sign a disclosure document about their property so buyers know what they’re getting into; however, it can be very tempting for some to tell white lies or conveniently forget facts,” says Wendy Flynn, owner of Wendy Flynn Realty in College Station, TX. “In fact, a very large number of real estate lawsuits stem from owners misrepresenting their property.”


So, just to be on the safe side, here are some common cover-ups and how you can crack them.

Water damage

Water stains aren’t just ugly; they’re also signs of leaks, and a breeding ground for mold. And they’re fairly easy for homeowners to hide with strategic decoration or staging, according to Frank Baldassarre, owner of Ace Home Inspections on Staten Island, NY.

“Many sellers try to conceal water intrusion in the basement, for example, with a pile of cardboard boxes or suitcases,” he says. You could always ask the homeowner to move the furniture a few inches and shine a pocket flashlight around. If the home has obvious red flags (an odd odor or visible wall cracks), it’s not unreasonable to request removing a large picture frame to take a peek at what’s behind it.

Another popular tactic for concealing water damage: a coat of fresh paint.

“Always ask the homeowner when they last painted,” says Baldassarre. “If it was a year ago, they’re probably not trying to hide water stains.”

A contaminated backyard

If you’re looking at an older home—specifically, if it was built before 1975—odds are it used to run on oil. Back then, homeowners typically had large oil tanks installed in the basement or underground in the backyard to conserve space and maintain the home’s aesthetic.

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“The problem is that oil can contaminate soil, and because it’s incredibly costly to remove, some people try to hide evidence of the tank,” says Baldassarre. “Recently, I arrived to a home inspection early and caught the homeowner sawing off the top of the fill pipe.”

So while walking through a home’s backyard, look for a small fill pipe sticking up from the ground (sometimes covered by patches of grass), a dead giveaway that an oil tank is on the premises. Or double-check by asking the seller if the home was heated with oil in the past.

A shaky foundation

If the paint job in a home looks a little uneven around the door frames or windows, take a closer to look to see if it’s concealing any jagged cracks in the wall, advises Flynn. Those zigzags can signify foundation problems, a costly and potentially dangerous situation for potential buyers.

A weak foundation can prevent cabinets and doors from closing, cause supporting beams to snap from stress, or even result in a poor home appraisal, which can affect your loan and the home’s resale value.

Another clue that the house has a weak foundation: “if you feel as though you’re suddenly walking up or down—even slightly—as you move through the home,” says Flynn.

Problem neighbors

Barking dogs, rocker teens, and blaring horns are all factors that can turn off potential buyers. That’s why some owners try to downplay these situations with well-timed open houses and neighborly negotiations.

“Homeowners have an obligation to disclose what are called ‘neighborhood nuisances,’ but if they don’t, buyers have to rely on their word,” says Carrie Benuska, a Realtor® at John Aaroe Group in Pasadena, CA. “I know people who have asked their neighbors to keep noisy dogs inside during showings or only open their homes during strategic times of the day.”

Even well-intentioned owners may not be candid if they’ve become accustomed to their environment. One workaround, suggests Benuska, is for buyers to take a stroll around the neighborhood at different times of the day to get a more authentic feel for the area. And don’t hesitate to make small talk with the locals, who can offer a more objective view of their surroundings.

Weird temperature changes

Anyone who’s lived in a home with a freezing bathroom or unusually warm bedroom knows that a temperature imbalance can result in avoiding a room altogether. That’s why tapping into your senses is key when viewing your potential new home.

“If you walk into a room and there’s a subtle shift in the atmosphere—maybe the air feels dry or damp—ask the owner what the room feels like throughout the seasons,” says Benuska. “The culprit is usually poor insulation, sometimes as a result of the owner adding a second room or floor to the home.” Oftentimes, an owner isn’t trying to outright conceal extension work. However, if the construction was done without a permit—“more common than you’d imagine,” says Benuska—you aren’t required to pay for the extra square footage.

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The six worst homes for first time Buyers

4/4/2016

The 6 Worst Homes for First-Time Buyers

Deciding to buy your first home is a little scary. Looking for a home is anxiety-inducing. But actually making an offer? That’s a whole different level of panic. Are you choosing the right one? What if you buy this home and the perfect place comes on the market a week later? What if you end up hating the place in a year?

Unfortunately, there isn’t a one-size fits all. (If there were, we’d tell you.) And no, we can’t totally distress the process (buying a house is a big deal, after all). But we can help you avoid the biggest mistakes. And, as it turns out, some homes just aren’t right for the average first-time buyer. Go ahead and take a look.

1. The one that’s a little too ‘cozy’

You may not have children when you buy your first house. You may not even be planning on children. But those plans could change in the next five to 10 years, and that tiny two-bedroom historic bungalow you’ve been eyeing may go from just right to clown-car small.

“If you are recently married and plan to start a family, do not buy a two-bedroom home. Unless you bunk the kids together, you will be moving once the second child comes along,” says Seth Lejeune, a Realtor® with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices in Collegeville, PA. “Three is generally a good average. If you end up staying there longer than expected, you can start a family and still be comfortable.”

 

2. The bloater

On the flip side, you shouldn’t just get the biggest house you can qualify for, either. Five bedrooms might make sense for you in the future, but if it’s just you and your partner now, you probably won’t need those other four bedrooms for years. In the meantime, you’ll be carrying a much larger mortgage than you need—or possibly can handle.

“There’s almost nothing worse than buying more house than you need and having a reminder come in the mail every month as you scrounge to make payments,” Lejeune says.

 

You might be tempted to buy an older fixe-upper—after all, you’ve watched so much HGTV you could give Bob Vila a run for his money—but be careful how much rehab you take on.

If the home needs one or two biggish projects and a handful of small weekend jobs to get into perfect condition, you might come out ahead. But if you can spot a dozen problem areas now, you may end up going broker trying to repair that place.

Instead, opt for a fixer-upper with an end in sight.

“I generally advise people to keep it simple—like kitchens and bath upgrades,” Lejeune says.

 

4. The weekend stealer

Is the front lawn a tropical garden? Does the house have a swimming pool out back? Is there a huge vegetable garden that needs tending? Those features might look great now, but do you really want to spend every weekend maintaining your home?

“Pools, hot tubs, elaborate landscaping, etc. are great in theory, but all require maintenance,” Lejeune says.

If you’re not up for the challenge, move along.

 

5. The dream crusher

In an ideal world, you’ll live in your first home for a while, maybe make a few improvements, and sell it for a profit later so you can upgrade to an even more awesome pad.

Sometimes your tireless home improvements won't mean much to the next home buyer. And sometimes that home simply isn’t going to go up in price, no matter what improvements you make.

“If you make a row home in the worst part of the city into the Taj Mahal, you’re never gonna get that money back,” Lejeune says.

If your only reason for making an offer is what you might get out of it after you sell it, consider the market very, very carefully before you make the plunge.

 

6. The doorbuster

If you’ve found a really good deal on a home, go ahead and pat yourself on the back for being a regular real estate pro. But then stop and ask yourself why the deal’s so great. Is the location a bit gritty? You might save big bucks in the beginning, but there also might be big problems if and when you try to sell the home later on.

“I would advise that you pick [a locale] with a strong school district and a fiscally sound municipality,” Lejeune says.

Even if you don’t plan on having children, or you don’t care if a neighborhood is a little rough around the edges, future buyers might—and that means you may be forced to offer the same discount you got when you bought the house. And nobody wants their decisions as a first-time buyer to come back and haunt them as a first-time seller.

 

6 Things to Look for during a Listing Presentation

2/17/2016

6 Things to Look for during a Listing Presentation

When selling your home, it’s critical to find an agent you trust to get the job done. Of course the more agents you meet, the better informed you’ll be. Scheduling a listing presentation enables you to glean more information to help you choose the agent best for you. Here are a few things to look for.


1. Experience
Does the agent have an impressive record of selling the type of property you’re listing? Is he or she familiar with your region?

2. Sales at listing price
Ask for the average difference between the sales price of the homes the agent has sold and the listing price. Though some of this depends on the market, it will also reflect whether the agent can skillfully set listing prices or negotiate offers.

3. Good listening skills
Is the agent plowing through a canned presentation without allowing questions? Is he or she taking notes as you talk? Make sure the agent is focused on you and your needs. If it’s all about them during the listing presentation, chances are they won’t be attentive during the actual sales process.

4. Marketing
The agent should present a comprehensive plan for marketing your home. Where will they promote your property? Will they hold open houses? Have them explain the reasons behind their decisions. This is where meeting with multiple agents can be beneficial. One agent may say open houses don’t work, another may favor them. It’s all about whose point of view you agree with most.

5. Personality
Clear communication between an agent and seller is vital. Although you don’t have to be best friends, if your personalities don’t mesh it can make communication more difficult.

6. References
Ask for contact information for the agent’s most recent three clients.

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